I always try to talk myself out of quitting anything. I like to think that I'm someone who perseveres no matter what, a real trouper. When I make a commitment I take it seriously: If I sign up for 10 aerobics classes, I force myself to go to all 10 regardless of what hurts; if I start to make a dress, I make sure I not only finish it but also wear it at least several times, even when it turns out to be hideous. Deciding to give up is not usually a choice I like to make. But, to be honest, some of my biggest leaps forward have been the result of saying, ''I quit.''
I had my earliest experience in deciding to quit something important at age 14 when I was enrolled in what was supposed to be my first year in boarding school. I'd chosen to go there. I'd imagined it would be something like Hayley Mills's movie ''The Trouble with Angels'': I'd have a best friend with whom I'd play tricks on the teachers, who would secretly consider us their favorite students.
The fact is I'd never even liked school. And I'd had no idea what it would be like to live at school 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 3,000 miles from home. Also I'd always avoided any kind of group activities. Here, even brushing my teeth, I was part of a group. There was almost no privacy. The only place I could find to cry without being heard was in the shower. The food was difficult for me to be in the same room with, let alone swallow. I stopped eating, my grades dropped, and I missed my mom.
One night in February I was sitting in my room ''studying.'' Actually I was staring at a page of Homer's Odyssey, wondering if there was any chance at all that I could catch up with my class who were eight chapters ahead of me. Or better still, I thought, maybe I could get out of this mess entirely.
Right then I went to find the head-mistress. I told her that I wanted to go home. She reminded me that my sister, my mother, and my grandmother had all loved the school. I knew that, and I also knew 300 girls were getting along just fine there at that very moment. It didn't help; I still wanted to go home. Over the next several days, concerned relatives were enlisted to tell me that I really should ''stick it out,'' that quitting this school would be a decision I'd regret for the rest of my life. I decided to take that chance.
I ended up in a public high school in my hometown, and every afternoon at 3: 05 I was grateful to leave. I did my homework, I had a best friend, and I even volunteered for a few group activities.
Years later, I had just started a new job. The reasons I took it seemed to be good ones: It paid well, it had a nice-sounding title, and it gave me a fair amount of responsibility and independence. The work wasn't quite what I wanted to do, but I assured myself it would be good experience and decided to give it at least a year. I realized almost immediately after I'd started that I'd made a mistake. By the third week, I started feeling homesick sitting at my desk. By the fourth week, in order to get out of bed in the morning, I had to trick myself into believing it was Saturday.
I called my friends and asked them what they would do if they were me. I told them what I wanted to do: I wanted to work as a free-lance writer to support myself and also to write fiction. They listened patiently and then said they thought I should ''stick it out.'' Quitting now would look terrible on my resume , everyone agreed. By the fifth week, I'd stopped caring about how it would look or what other people thought, and I gave notice.
Since I quit I've been doing what I want to do: working as a free-lance writer to support myself and writing short stories. This is the best job I've ever had.
When quitting is the right thing to do, I know it because I feel tremendously relieved. Sometimes though, quitting is the wrong choice. The way I can tell is that before long I start to miss whatever it is that I've quit. There is a solution to that, too. That's when I quit quitting and go back to what I was doing in the first place.